Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Lost Payroll of the Beckmanntruppe: A first game of Triumph and Tragedy

German Central Africa, 1890. The steamer Kaiserin Helena carries a precious cargo along the remote north west shore of Lake Wittelsbach. It is the payroll for the Beckmanntruppe, which is upcountry involved in hard fighting claiming the lands of the Halloo-Halloo tribe for the Fatherland. What happens next is unclear. A mutiny, violence, and an unexplained boiler explosion. The steamer runs aground in hostile territory. Only one man returns to civilisation. It is Käpitan Kaufmann, burning with fever, raving mad and with several spears sticking out of him. Unable to carry it back on his own, he claims to have buried the payroll and drawn a map showing its location. Unfortunately, due to chronic (and sadly terminal) absent-mindedness, he left the map in his desk drawer on board the Helena. He dies before he can give the location of the grounded steamer. Despite several searches, neither the ship nor the gold is found. It passes into local legend, and claims the lives of several reckless treasure hunters.

1916. While patrolling over the lake in search of German warships, Lt. Don Wimble, RNAS, spots the overgrown remains of the steamer from the air. Later he drunkenly boasts of his find in a Zanzibar saloon. Soon the entire region is talking about the treasure. Only the local German forces and the Congo Belgians have the wherewithal to mount immediate expeditions to claim the gold. Two independent-minded local commanders decide to grab the loot for themselves. As fate would have it, they approach the area from different directions at roughly the same time.

So this is the background to our latest game. Really just a cobbled-together scenario dreamed up without a lot of care or thought, for the purposes of trying out Triumph and Tragedy.
(Clicking on pictures generally increases their bigness)
This is a relatively new game written by a couple of fellow forum members on LAF. Björn was kind enough to send me a copy for free (autographed, no less!) when they came out. So the least I could do was give them a try and do a write-up on the game. They are an early 20th Century skirmish rules set, suitable for the Great War, between the wars Back of Beyond type affairs, Pulp fun, and even Darkest Africa, too.

It uses quite a novel (well, it's new to me) card activation system. This meant of course we needed to print up some unit cards. This was all a spur of the moment sort of thing, and I found that I didn't have any card to print on. Bugger.

But I did have...

... A laminating machine! I love the smell of lamination in the morning. Smells like victory.

Anyway, to the game. It was Plynkes against Siklee, who this time asked to be the Germans.

The playing area. A patch of parched scrub land on a remote shore of the lake. A native village dominated the centre of the table. Its inhabitants had scarpered, fearing a punitive expedition coming to punish them for what they did to the shipwrecked survivors of the Kaiserin Helena.

Speaking of whom, here she is. Not in bad shape, considering. Within was the map. Whoever got to it first would then be able to determine where to dig. We put three random locations into a hat (actually my Wolseley helmet which seemed kind of fitting).

These possible treasure sites were:

The lonely grave of Feldwebel Löhne...

Beneath the the cooking fire of the villagers...

Or 'X marks the spot.'

We weren't allowed to dig on the off-chance. Possession of the map was required before anyone could go making holes in the table.

The expedition leaders: Commandant Van Driscoles and Commissioner Steimel.
(Yes, they are my Flynn O' Flynn and Fleischer figures, but I didn't have time to paint up new characters specially for this game).

As it was our first go, we decided to keep our forces relatively simple. They were nearly identical.

We both had:
A hero leading the expedition,
A unit of trained askaris,
A unit of veteran askaris,
A unit of musket-armed irregulars,
Some porters,
And a support weapon.

The German support weapon was a heavy machine gun. The Belgians had a shiny new trench mortar. One of these would prove much more useful than the other, and indeed probably decided the outcome of the game. But more of that later...

So the game began. The Germans entered the fray, tightly-bunched and looking very orderly.

And the Belgians staggered on, in a somewhat more casual fashion.

First order of business for me was to find a suitable spot to set up my mortar. Nice and safe behind some rocks. The spotter for the mortar can be seen off to the left in the middle distance.

While I was doing this, the Germans had quickly advanced and set up their HMG to cover the open space in the middle of the village.

I had split the rest of my force into two wings. On the right the veteran askaris and the irregulars took up a defensive position on the edge of the village, to observe and hopefully hold off the enemy. Shots were exchanged but they didn't amount to anything much.

While on the left Van Driscoles and the trained askaris headed for the Helena, which they reached unmolested by the enemy.

But this good news was not much on my mind. For back at the village, the full force of the enemy was bearing down on my weak position, and to make things worse I was in danger of being outflanked on my extreme right. This position was obviously untenable. Should I sacrifice these men to buy time for Van Driscoles to find the map?

Nah, that ain't my style. The askari were hastily redeployed...

And fire was provided by the mortar to cover their retreat. It missed its target (the Maxim gun), but the wide shot fell amongst a nearby unit, causing casualties, mayhem and havoc, and also pinning a unit of askaris (The poker chips and white flag represent suppressions and pinned status respectively).

Mortar rounds continued to plunge into the village...

...Giving my forces a chance to pull back to a more defensible location.

But back at the Helena things were also going badly. Van Driscoles had boarded the remains of the steamer alone to search for the map. Spotting this, my opponent had sent his Ruga Ruga over to deal with him. Things looked black for the Belgian. But being a hero, he calmly stepped up and emptied his shotgun into them. Then, standing upon the deck, he calmly reloaded and opened up on them again. His high initiative rating (thanks to being a hero and having the 'Tactician' skill) and the luck of the cards, allowed him to get two shots off without reply.

Which sent the Ruga Ruga scurrying away. They never managed to regain their nerve, and eventually legged it all the way off the table.

Meanwhile the Germans advanced through the village, past the positions recently vacated by their foe.

Who had retreated to the nearby cover of some rock outcrops, and resolved to sell their lives dearly.

Now it became clear what my opponent's plan was. He was going to leave me to find the map and treasure now, but was moving to cut off my exit area. I would have to fight my way past the Germans to get the gold back to the Congo.

At this point I offered to call a truce and split the money with him, but he was having none of it. Fool.

But his veteran askaris, spotting my irregulars taking cover in a nearby patch of brush, couldn't resist advancing to test their skills with the bayonet. Surely they could beat these badly-armed raw troops? Well no, as it happens. Thanks to superior numbers, and some abysmal dice-rolling on Sickers' part (he was plagued with unluck throughout the fight, it must be said) the irregulars eventually triumphed, after a mammoth fight that seemed to last an age. They lost but a single man, and took one of the enemy askari prisoner.

Back now from the Helena (and having found the map), Van Driscoles set the porters to work. Turns out the payroll was buried beneath the fake grave after all.

At this point, after seeing their best troops humbled by, let's face it, a gang of armed hobos, the Germans lost heart. They had been taking gradual losses from rifle and mortar fire, and realised they could no longer really contest the issue. So they began to pull back, and I was happy to let them go.

So after some hard digging, the sacks filled with gold were uncovered. Victory to Brave Little Belgium! Hurrah!

The prize of Best in Show or at least an Honourable Mention must go to the Belgian irregulars. Raw troops armed only with muskets, they managed to see off the best the Schutztruppe had to offer. Good for them. Now my Ruga Ruga, whatever rule system we have used, have almost always performed extremely poorly. But these newly-painted figures, given exactly the same stats, behaved like heroes. I think those particular Ruga Ruga figures are just cursed. They must be.

Final Tally
The Germans lost 21 killed and wounded, one captured. Miraculously, the only Belgian loss was one irregular musket man killed, who was cut down during the famous melee.

So that was Triumph and Tragedy. I must say I was very impressed with these rules. The innovative card system, while being a slight pain in that you need to print out a unique card for each and every unit, I think is well worth the effort. All in one place you are able to keep track of which units have acted in a turn, who has the initiative, and the stats of the currently-acting unit. And the idea of selecting the order in which your units act by the way you stack the deck is great. It forces you to prioritise your force's actions, which can lead to some tricky decision-making. And the more decisions you have to make, the more involved you feel in the game, at least that's how I feel. I shall definitely be playing these rules again.

In retrospect, perhaps the Belgians had too much of an advantage with the mortar versus the HMG. But to be fair, it never actually hit anything it aimed at. All of the casualties it caused were the results of extremely lucky (or unlucky from a German perspective) deviation rolls. The German MG never seemed to find itself in a good place to fire (mostly because I ran away from it whenever possible) and I think it only fired for one turn in the whole game. On the other hand, the spotter for the mortar was constantly on the move (within his allowed limits) trying to find things for his parent unit to shoot at, which meant that they got off four or five good shots, about half of which caused absolute (and accidental) devastation.

Sometimes the dice just don't love you, Sickers...

I don't think I'm about to give up Price of Glory for my existing (and planned) Great War campaigns, because I really like it. But there's plenty of room for more than one game in our gaming circle, and I think T&T is perfect as an alternative to In the Heart of Africa (which I do like, but not as much as this) for Darkest Africa games. I think it is also well-suited to side-shows such as the Great War in Africa, and more Pulpish and not-quite-historical games like the one described here.

So that would be a definite thumbs-up from me and Sickers (and I'm not just saying that because Björn and Chris are fellow LAFers).

The figures used were mostly Copplestone, Foundry and Brigade, while the Belgian trench mortar and crew were conversions based on Old Glory figures. The Kaiserin Helena is a John Jenkins model (um, I think so, any road), and the village came from Grand Manner.

Thanks to Björn for the freebie copy of the rules, and Björn and Christian for answering my queries and general botherments about the rules. We were play testing a provisional rules amendment for the game, but unfortunately the situation it covered didn't arise during our game. Oh well, I guess that means we don't get paid. Never mind.

If you're interested in Triumph and Tragedy, there is a website:

And the authors can be found hanging around on Alex Bews' forum, where they indeed have their own board:
Lead Adventure Forum

They are very helpful in responding to rules questions and the like, and a quick response is usually forthcoming. All in all a great bunch of lads. To be honest, what with them, Iron Ivan's Chal and Keith, and the Rattrap gang of ne'er-do-wells, I'm starting to expect this kind of service. So if you are a games designer who doesn't like being bothered in the middle of the night with stupid, brainless rules questions, then I don't think I shall be buying your game, thank you very much.

That's it for now, ta ta.


tim said...

Mr. Plynkes!

Another cracking read, sir! Not to mntion the lovely photos of the area around Lake Wittelsbach! Thank-you for sharing this thrilling adventure (I was so geting tired of seeing Von Crane's Flying Circs whenever I popped around for a look-see...).



Guido said...

Thanks, Tim.

It's been a while, I know. But we've been playing board games and stuff like that a lot lately, which don't really make for riveting blog postings.

I tend to post just when I have something that may be of interest, rather than keeping to schedule just for the sake of it.

Ta ta.